Pres­sure builds on GAA to de­liver fix­tures over­haul

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN GREENE

CLUBS in Roscom­mon have for­mally called on the GAA to carry out a full re­view of all county and club fix­tures. The re­quest was adopted at a meet­ing of Roscom­mon County Board last week.

The board is now seek­ing to have the mat­ter raised at next month’s Cen­tral Coun­cil meet­ing.

A sub­mis­sion from the na­tional Cen­tral Com­pe­ti­tion Con­trols Com­mit­tee (CCCC) on a sec­ond-tier foot­ball cham­pi­onship is also ex­pected to be aired at that meet­ing. Roscom­mon’s pro­posal is that a com­mit­tee of “ap­pro­pri­ately qual­i­fied peo­ple from both within and out­side the GAA” should be set-up “to con­duct an over­all re­view of the na­tional games pro­gramme”.

Tommy Kenoy, who rose to promi­nence for the role he played in the abo­li­tion of Rule 42 to al­low soc­cer and rugby be played at Croke Park, pro­posed the mo­tion to Cen­tral Coun­cil at last Mon­day night’s board meet­ing. The GAA, he told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent, has been try­ing to fit “round pegs into square holes” with its fix­ture pro­grammes, adding that club play­ers are be­ing ig­nored.

The Kil­more club­man has been part of a com­mit­tee in Roscom­mon which was ex­am­in­ing the fix­tures scene in the county. “We dis­cov­ered,” he said, “that you can’t solve the lo­cal prob­lems un­til we fix the na­tional sit­u­a­tion first.”

A sur­vey of in­ter-county play­ers has in­di­cated a soften­ing in op­po­si­tion to a sec­ond-tier cham­pi­onship in foot­ball. But Kenoy believes the Roscom­mon pro­posal must now be given pri­or­ity. He says any fur­ther changes to the cham­pi­onship struc­tures in foot­ball or hurl­ing at the mo­ment is only ap­ply­ing “stick­ing plas­ter” to the prob­lem.

And this week­end, the Club Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (CPA) has re­it­er­ated its call for the GAA to go back to the draw­ing board. The As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents thou­sands of club play­ers, has been call­ing for a ‘blank can­vas’ ap­proach to foot­ball and hurl­ing fix­tures.

“We can­not sup­port a tiered cham­pi­onship un­less there is a com­plete over­haul,” said CPA chair­man Micheal Bri­ody. “It can­not be an­other in­cre­men­tal change and for it to be ac­cept­able it has to be part of a mas­ter fix­ture plan that in­cludes des­ig­nated club pe­ri­ods.”

Kenoy, who was part of the re­view com­mit­tee in Roscom­mon, said he had been taken aback at the depth of feel­ing in the county at the lack of mean­ing­ful club games over the sum­mer months.

“The big point com­ing through was that the feel­ing is that the GAA is be­com­ing a cor­po­rate, elit­ist body and there’s a big dis­con­nect be­tween the hi­er­ar­chy and the grass­root,” he said.

The sur­vey of in­ter-county play­ers, car­ried out by the Gaelic Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, also found that they would wel­come more cham­pi­onship games for county teams.

“There can­not con­ceiv­ably be any more cham­pi­onship games in the sum­mer for in­ter-county play­ers as the club pitches are empty and bereft of any mean­ing­ful matches through­out the sum­mer,” Bri­ody told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent.

My ques­tion is this: what ex­actly is the ‘play­ers’ voice’?

There is gen­eral agree­ment that the in­ter-county fix­ture list is heav­ily over­loaded. While there is a fairly well de­fined pat­tern of dates for ma­jor games, many fix­tures are made on an ad hoc ba­sis. The large num­ber of in­ter-county fix­tures re­duces the num­ber of Sun­days avail­able for club games and a county’s suc­cess of­ten mil­i­tates against a con­tin­u­ous pro­gramme of club games. Re­port of the GAA’s Mc­Namee Com­mis­sion, De­cem­ber 1971

IF ever you needed clear ev­i­dence of the grow­ing split be­tween club and county in the GAA, then it came last week. On one hand, a room full of club del­e­gates gave their county board per­mis­sion to push the GAA to ur­gently ad­dress the fix­tures cri­sis; on the other, county play­ers made it known that they are open to play­ing more games.

In Roscom­mon on Mon­day, the county board de­cided to send for­ward a mo­tion to the next Cen­tral Coun­cil meet­ing call­ing for an ur­gent re­view of the na­tional pro­gramme of games at county and club level. Tommy Kenoy, who many will re­mem­ber for his role in the abo­li­tion of Rule 42, was a mem­ber of that com­mit­tee and he pro­posed the mo­tion at last week’s board meet­ing. It was sec­onded by Sean Kil­bride, the for­mer Mayo foot­baller.

“We want a com­mit­tee of suit­ably qual­i­fied peo­ple to ex­am­ine the whole sit­u­a­tion,” Kenoy told the Sun­day

In­de­pen­dent. “We want equal­ity — we want the club and the county to be treated equally.”

The Club Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion has been ar­gu­ing for a “blank can­vas”, for the fix­tures sched­ule to be re­designed from scratch. Micheal Bri­ody, the CPA chair­per­son, says it is the only way for­ward for the GAA. He says they sup­port Roscom­mon’s stance and are hope­ful the Cen­tral Coun­cil will agree to hear the mo­tion at next month’s meet­ing. There have also been re­ports that a two-tiered cham­pi­onship for foot­ball will be dis­cussed at the same meet­ing but Bri­ody says that will only pa­per over the cracks.

The CPA ar­gues that any dis­cus­sions on chang­ing the foot­ball cham­pi­onship should be put on hold un­til the en­tire fix­tures sit­u­a­tion is re­solved. Kenoy agrees, say­ing it would “just be a stick­ing plas­ter” to make changes now with­out look­ing at the big­ger pic­ture.

A few days af­ter the Roscom­mon board meet­ing, the Gaelic Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion pub­lished the main find­ings of its lat­est player sur­vey.

It’s hard to know which was more alarm­ing, the find­ings or the com­ments is­sued to me­dia out­lets at­trib­uted to the GPA’s lat­est chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul Flynn. (To lose one chief ex­ec­u­tive may be con­sid­ered un­for­tu­nate, to lose two seems care­less.)

In­ter-county play­ers said they would like to see more cham­pi­onship games in the sum­mer. We know that in­ter-county play­ers are op­er­at­ing in a bub­ble, but it still comes as a sur­prise that they are so far re­moved now from the grass­roots of the As­so­ci­a­tion — and the friends that they grew up with in their clubs — that they would like to have more county games in the sum­mer. This would be at the ex­pense of their fam­i­lies, friends and neigh­bours. It ham­mers home the point, em­phat­i­cally so in fact, that when you take play­ers out of their club en­vi­ron­ment and cos­set them in a county setup, they lose all sense of per­spec­tive about what the GAA is sup­posed to be about. The com­mu­nity ethos at its heart is be­ing di­luted all the time.

In these pages last week, Kilkenny man­ager Brian Cody lamented the fact that club pitches are ly­ing idle in the sum­mer months, a point echoed by Kenoy. It’s an ob­ser­va­tion which res­onated with many.

Which brings us to Flynn’s re­marks, which are worth re­peat­ing be­cause they show defini­tively what the GPA’s ethos re­ally is.

“The fix­tures con­ver­sa­tion is an im­por­tant one and play­ers are at the heart of it. We wanted to hear the play­ers’ ex­pe­ri­ence of the 2018 sea­son so that we could bring it to the at­ten­tion of the GAA and push hard for player-cen­tred change. We now have a strong man­date from our mem­bers to de­mand real and mean­ing­ful change to the fix­tures sched­ule to al­low play­ers to bet­ter man­age the in­tense de­mands of the mod­ern game. We all want to en­sure that the game flour­ishes into the fu­ture. It’s es­sen­tial that the play­ers’ voice is heard and re­spected by the de­ci­sion mak­ers in the GAA, and the GPA will be fo­cused hard on en­sur­ing that this hap­pens.”

My ques­tion is this: what ex­actly is the ‘play­ers’ voice’? Are we talk­ing about the very small num­ber of play­ers who make it to in­ter-county level or are we talk­ing about all play­ers? The an­swer, of course, is ob­vi­ous. The GPA has only ever been in­ter­ested in one group of play­ers and, in fair­ness, has never made any apolo­gies for that.

The real truth at the heart of this sur­vey lies buried: play­ers want more games in the sum­mer with the county team, and they also want a more de­fined off-sea­son, more time to re­cover from their ex­er­tions with that team. So we have the county sea­son, and the off-sea­son . . . but what about club games? What about the club play­ers sit­ting at home wait­ing for the county board to fix them to play three games in seven days af­ter hav­ing 10 weeks off ? Sure, who gives a shit about them? That’s the mes­sage here.

If the GAA is se­ri­ous, and if the GAA is pre­pared to ac­knowl­edge the scale of the prob­lem it now faces at club level, then it can­not give any cre­dence to this GPA sur­vey. It should be ig­nored.

Rather, it must lis­ten to what those on the ground are say­ing. Even Tommy Kenoy ad­mits to hav­ing been taken aback at the scale of the dis­con­nect be­tween those in­volved in clubs in Roscom­mon and the GAA at na­tional level. He and oth­ers spoke to many peo­ple in the county af­ter be­ing tasked with look­ing into prob­lems with fix­ture-mak­ing in the county. “We dis­cov­ered that you can’t solve the lo­cal prob­lems un­til we fix the na­tional sit­u­a­tion first,” he said.

The only area of com­mon ground that ap­pears to ex­ist now be­tween those rep­re­sent­ing club play­ers and those rep­re­sent­ing county play­ers is on the need for some kind of com­mit­tee to re­view fix­tures be­fore any more changes are made. The GPA ad­mit­ted last week that it was in favour of this next step. “We have al­ready de­manded the task force that the GPA have asked for so now 100 per cent of the play­ing pop­u­la­tion is de­mand­ing it,” says Bri­ody.

You have to won­der what it’s go­ing to take for com­mon sense to pre­vail. It is some­times por­trayed that the grow­ing anger over the lack of club fix­tures is be­ing over­stated. The fact is that it’s not; it’s a prob­lem which is a very real threat to the GAA.

It’s hard to be­lieve, al­most 47 years later, that those words from the Mc­Namee Com­mis­sion re­port — which at the time was a very se­ri­ous root and branch look at the GAA and the chal­lenges it faced — could just as eas­ily have been writ­ten to­day.

Micheal Bri­ody says the CPA sup­ports Roscom­mon’s call for an ur­gent re­view of the na­tional pro­gramme of games at county and club level

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